At my day job, we recently held an awards ceremony honoring hospital employees who go to extraordinary lengths to show compassion to others.
So, it got me to thinking about what compassion is, in its simplest, truest form.
There are many obvious examples: A parent's unabashed love for a child - or an adult child's empathy for an ailing parent. Giving of one's time, talent or treasure toward those suffering or undergoing hardship. Being there for a friend or loved one in their time of need.
I know it is commonplace to trace the roots of a word to its origins when trying to define it. Often we harken back to the now dormant Latin language to discover original sources/meanings of words.
As for the Merriam-Webster folks, they describe compassion as sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate the suffering.
Personally, I've always looked at the word grammatically. Sorry, it's the English-lover in me! Compassion is an abstract compound word and I've always thought it stands to reason that, in its most literal sense, it means having and demonstrating passion with or for someone or something.
Because let's face it, there's no compassion without passion. Just ask the elderly couple I saw squabbling pointedly (and rather loudly) at the Dunkin' Donuts in Niles just before he wiped off her chair with a napkin so she wouldn't sit on some else's spilled coffee. See? As irritated as he was with her, he didn't want her to plop down into a big old mess. Com-Passion.
In terms of those being honored at the event I referenced, former award recipients include nurses who turned an intensive care unit into a wedding chapel so that a woman could exchange vows with her fiance in front of her dying mother, who was clearly not going to otherwise be present for the wedding planned for a month into the future.
They saw this daughter sad and hurting at the thought that she would be marrying the man of her dreams without her mother present for the special moment. And they took it upon themselves to do something about it. Voila - a wedding in the ICU.
Having been reared by a nurse and steelworker, both devout Catholics, incidentally, who put tremendous emphasis on charity and giving of the gifts with which you've been blessed, my siblings and I learned compassion from a very young age. Thanks for that (and so much else) Mom and Dad, btw.
And fortunately for me, in my role at my day job, I have the distinct pleasure of not only witnessing compassion routinely, but I am also afforded the great privilege of helping tell the tales of that exceptional kindness. It's easily my favorite task.
I am humbled by the compassion I see on a daily basis and it ranges from the most grand gestures, such as soothing a terminal patient (and the sister standing at her bedside) by covering her with a hand-crocheted shawl which has been blessed by a chaplain -to more subtle signs such as quietly working behind the scenes to find temporary shelter for an ER patient's dog so that she would calm down enough to agree to stay overnight in the hospital and accept crucial treatment.
I think compassion is all these things and a million other little ones.
It's seeing a flat tire in the parking lot and making sure someone fills it with air before the driver returns. It's taking a lost visitor by the hand and personally ushering him into the office he seeks in vain. It's seeing a sad coworker and surprising her with a cinnamon bagel to brighten her morning.
Yep, the caring for the other humans to the point of trying to ease their pain that's the whole point of this thing called life, methinks.
Compassion - let's try spreading that this flu season. And every other one, too.